Mack Latz, a former owner of the Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City, died Thursday at age 95.
He was notoriously gruff, with a dry a sense of humor, but his friends said they found him complex and caring.
“He reveled in his image of an ogre,” said longtime friend Bill Rafferty, owner of Rafferty Real Estate. “I found that he had a very soft heart after you got past the ogre part.”
Latz grew up in Atlantic City, went to Atlantic City public schools and graduated from Bordentown Military Academy. He lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II, receiving a Purple Heart after being critically injured in Italy.
When he returned to the United States, he worked in management at the historic Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City before returning to the area in 1948 to run the Knife & Fork in place of his father and mother, Milton and Evelyn Latz.
He died a week before the centennial of the restaurant he ran with his brother, Jim. They were very successful, despite a combative relationship, and they both became local celebrities because of the powerful people who often visited their restaurant.
Latz became an expert in the industry, albeit with an unorthodox style. He would often drive to fish markets in Philadelphia, and he would meticulously inspect all deliveries.
“He had very, very high standards about what came in from his purveyors and what went out to his customers,” said Frank Dougherty, who purchased the Knife & Fork in 2005.
He also demanded a lot from his customers.
“He had rules. You had to wear a coat in there, and if you didn’t have a coat he’d hand you a coat,” Dougherty said. “He ran a very, very tight ship.”
Carmen Rone, owner of Tomatoes in Margate, said Latz was like a mentor to him. He said he had a lot of stories about Latz, although not many fit for publication.
“He was Mack Latz,” he said. “That about sums it up.”
Besides the restaurant business, Rone said Latz talked fondly about sailing, one of his favorite hobbies. He raced his sailboat, called “The Knife,” along the East Coast.
He was also a surfer and squash player, his enthusiasm for which was exceeded only by his poor skills at both, Rafferty joked.
“He was a disastrous surfer,” Rafferty said, while laughing about Latz barreling straight ahead and not worrying who was in front of him. “Everyone was terrified of him.”
Latz was pre-deceased by his wife of nearly 40 years, Elaine, and his brother Jim. He is survived by three sons, Andrew, Gordon and Geoffrey, with Andrew the owner of Latz’s By The Bay in Somers Point.
Funeral arrangements are private, according to his published obituary. In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation to the Atlantic City Salvation Army.
“He’s badly missed,” Dougherty said.
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